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    Belgium not yet ready for liberalised rail transport

    © Belga

    Belgium is not ready for the liberalisation of its internal passenger transport, the Consultative Committee for Railway Travellers, CCVF, noted in its 2019 memorandum, published on Thursday.

    The Belgian railway market needs to be open to competition by 2023, and, in this regard, the keywords of recommendations the Committee is issuing to the future federal government are improving supply and a shared, long-term vision among the various stakeholders in the railway sector.

    The collaboration between Infrabel, which manages Belgium’s railway infrastructure, the Belgian National Railway Company, SNCB, which runs the network, and the regional transport companies -TEC,Stib and De Lijn – lacks a shared vision, notes the Committee, whose role is to advise the federal authorities, SNCB and Infrabel in the interest of railway users.

    The CCVF recommends that the Mobility and Transport Department should be the one to bring about this coherence. Since the public authorities finance the transport service, they should also be in charge of defining it as well as its strategic evolution, notes the Committee.

    It sees this all-encompassing vision as all the more necessary since the internal passenger transport network needs to function on the basis of public tendering from 2023, according to EU regulations. “If new actors come on board tomorrow, someone needs to impose on the different operators’ ways of ensuring coordination among all” protagonists, (railway, bus etc), explained Juliette Walckiers, head of mission at Inter-Environment Wallonia, who presented the 2019 memorandum.

    The Committee proposes in a first phase to conclude management contracts with SNCB and Infrabel for the next 10 years, which would push back the next public tender to 2033. “We feel the conditions for opening up the market without affecting the quality of the transport service are currently not met, but we are preparing the follow-up because 10 years, that’s very short,” said Ms Walckiers, speaking on the Committee’s behalf. Still, the CCVF sees the liberalisation of the railway sector as an opportunity to provide travellers with better-quality, more extensive railway services.

    The authorities also have to support the SNCB in improving its services so that it can be competitive in a liberalised market. The Federal State, therefore, needs to hold consultations with the regions to facilitate close collaboration between the federal, regional and local transport operators, the Committee urges.

    The CCVF feels, further, that the railway sector needs to aim at a 92.5% punctuality rate from 2020 onwards – the 2017 rate was 88.3%. Punctuality and safety are linked, it notes, since the state of basic infrastructure has a direct impact on both.

    Finally, the Committee is calling for the frequency and working hours of all commuter trains to be increased so that commuters can benefit, in particular, from departures before 6.00 a.m. and after 10.00 p.m.

    Oscar Schneider
    The Brussels Times